Feature Article - September 2003
Find a printable version here

Listen and Lighten Up

From foot candles to acoustical sprays, learn the ins and outs of designing for sound and light

By Kyle Ryan

Gyms have similar problems with echoes, but banners might not work there because balls often travel high in the air. Here, Lavoie recommends using acoustical steel decking for the roof structure during the construction phase. The benefits, he says, are huge and the investment small.

If you have a facility that's already constructed, simple ceiling panels are easy to install and absorb sound well. All it takes is a quick calculation of how many you need for the square footage.

"A lot of it you can plan for and design for, but until you get in there, and all the issues come out, sometimes it takes building the first one," Doerr says. "Acoustical modeling can help you with the planning, but the reality of the space often doesn't turn out as designed or planned for. Everything's kind of a work in progress."

The reign of aesthetics

When asked about other design elements he likes to use in the facilities he builds, Lavoie mentions accent lighting to emphasize a bulletin board, a piece of art or a particularly striking architectural feature.

Designers used indirect lighting at the Boston Celtics Athletic Training Facility, a design choice not seen often in gymnasiums.

Doerr mentions Life Time's new work on exterior lighting at night. There are lighting fixtures attached to the top parapet of the building with illuminated accent medallions. Lights on the ground shine up and wash the walls with a glow.

"It's a combination of lighting angles, not just flooding the building with light, to accentuate the finer details of the building," he says.

Hearing them, it's obvious that gone are the days of having a no-frills rec center, especially if you're a health club that wants to stay competitive. Howland says aesthetics will continue to be emphasized, if not more so, in the future.

"If you visit facilities, they're just much more aesthetically interesting and appealing than gyms were just 10 years ago," Howland says. "That's what the experienced consumer comes to expect. It's a matter of keeping up with the Joneses. That brand-new gym down the street has brought in a professional to help them with their design and layout. I think it makes a difference."

It's a fine line to walk, though, because just as overzealous attention to sound isolation can be costly, over-designing a facility can do that as well, and the customers end up footing the bill.

"We try to keep the thing economic as well," Doerr says. "There's always more money that can be spent trying to come up with solutions, but we try to get more bang for buck, not driving price of membership up to the point that the model doesn't work."

Going to such lengths to keep up with the Joneses doesn't guarantee customers, either. While consumers may expect more these days, your business will suffer if the basics are overlooked.

"You may have state-of-the-art equipment on the floor, but to the average, inexperienced exerciser, they have no idea," Howland says. "But when they walk through the front door, they can tell if the club is well-lit and warm and friendly, and they can tell if the club is dirty or smelly. As an operator, which choice do you want to make?"